An interview with Lisa Holloway – Presenter of Channel 5’s To B&B The Best
Our sales co-ordinator Nikki Riley recently travelled to Newark, Nottinghamshire to Compton House bed and breakfast. Not as a staying guest, but to interview owner and TV presenter of channel 5’s ‘To B&B The Best’, Lisa Holloway. Here’s what she had to say…
Tell me a little bit about your background & how you came to own Compton House and indeed present To B&B the best on Channel 5.
I was born in Nottinghamshire and have spent most of my adult life in the area. I started my career in hospitality by helping a friend get a catering business off the ground and this taught me my basic business skills and a good start at customer services and the value of service with a smile. After this I helped turn Sutton Bonington Hall into a prestigious wedding venue and then moved on to manage a privately owned 11 bedroom hotel in the local area.
Twelve years ago I sold my home and holiday cottage in Yorkshire to help fund the purchase of Compton house Bed and Breakfast. After a lengthy search and viewing lots of properties across Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, my daughter found Compton House advertised and we both really liked the feel of the property and the flow of the house. We had a very clear vision for the B&B and had a list of ‘must-have’ features which included a separate drawing room and open fire. We did a lot of repairs, renovation and long hours of hard work, but finally we were ready to welcome our first guests.
I took cards and brochures to all local businesses to encourage them to book for business visitors, family or friends. From that day on, and for the past 12 years, I’ve welcomed guests from all over the world into my house and always provide a warm hospitable welcome to each and every one, which has kept people coming back.
I appeared on the television programme ‘Four in a Bed’ and enjoyed the experience of staying in other people’s accommodation. After this show, the producers of Channel 5’s ‘To B&B the Best’ liked my character and passion for good hospitality, and signed me up to present the programme which aired this summer.
Why did you decide to open a B&B?
After running the Hotel and combined with previous hospitality experience, I wanted to run my own business and was at a stage in my life when I no longer wanted to have to ask for a day off or answer to other people, so the B&B was a great opportunity to carry on with hospitality whilst being my own boss. I needed to make it work as I had made a big financial investment in Compton House and set about with very clear guidelines of how I wanted to run my B&B. I always wanted it to be an open friendly space where I was inviting people into my home.
What was the main factor that influenced your location?
The location chose me rather than the other way round. It was local to my childhood area and my own children were living abroad, so I wanted somewhere close to an airport so family could visit easily. The house ticked all the boxes on the ‘must-have’ list, and the layout and flow of the rooms along with the private annexe at the rear of the property sold it to me. Although Newark is not a traditional tourist destination, it is in central England making it accessible from all over the UK, popular for business and weddings which gives us a pleasant mix of guests from all over the world.
What is an average day like for you as an owner of a B&B?
We start our day at 6am to prepare the full breakfast service which on weekdays starts at 7am or weekends 8am. Breakfast is my favourite part of the day as it’s when I get to talk to the guests. We really pride our business on the quality of our breakfasts and range on offer. After breakfast service, the cleaning and linen changes take place, followed by cleaning of the general public areas.
We have a strong team of 2 Housekeepers, Rachel & Kate, who take care of servicing the rooms. There are many chores to be done each day over the week, such as laundry and linen, ordering supplies, buying the fresh food and provisions for the next few days, marketing materials, blog articles or recipes.
We also make all of our own bread, marmalade and cakes and this has to be squeezed in between all the chores, answering emails and of course welcoming guests and helping them to settle in. We often offer an evening meal service and also prepare lunches for groups or business dinners. Long stay guests can have their laundry done for them at an additional charge and all these little extras keep us more than busy.
Is running a B&B exactly what you thought it would be?
The everyday running of the B&B is exactly what I expected, but I hadn’t quite realised how tying it would be. There are not many hours in a day when I’m actually free to go out and relax. It is almost impossible to make short notice events or be spontaneous. Getting the work life balance right is very difficult. It is a labour of love and you only get out what you put in.
If you could go back to the beginning is there anything you would do differently?
The immediate answer is ‘worry less’. I had a clear vision and standards that we wanted to operate to, but constantly worried about what people thought and what they would request. Do it your way and enjoy it!
What is the main advice you would give somebody who was thinking of starting a B&B?
Don’t do it if you are not a people person! You have to be genuinely interested in people, conversation and socialising. Know your target market for guests and charge / decorate accordingly. Understanding your guest’s budget and expectations helps the host to meet or exceed those expectations creating a positive experience. Understand your limitations as a human being and if you cannot physically do everything yourself, subject to number of rooms, then be prepared to pay for part time staff or maintenance.
Always go with your gut instinct when it comes to guests. If you are not happy that they are the type of guest you trust or feel safe with then refuse the booking. We very rarely take non pre-booked people, such as last minute bookings or people walking in from off the street.
How important do you think online booking platforms are? How do they help or hinder your business?
TripAdvisor is feared by many, but if you get it right it can a very useful and positive tool to have. Fortunately we’ve had very few bad reviews and we make sure we reply to them all, good or bad. We don’t currently subscribe to the business user part of TripAdvisor which enables people to book directly via their website, but we’re currently considering the costs versus the benefits.
We’ve intentionally stayed away from larger booking sites as you are unable to filter the type of guests you receive, they charge high commission rates and they can attract last minute bookings which causes extra work. We’ve got our own website with Angelfish booking service. This enables us to receive booking enquiries from people without having to accept the booking.
We’re also proud to be listed in the Sawdays guide which although is a significant cost, is worth it as Sawday guests are very loyal!
How have the customer’s and industry changed over the years?
Customers now expect more from a B&B and view it like a mini hotel. Requests for taxis, pick up from train station, book tickets are all part of the service we offer.. Free WiFi is a must have. Most guests request fresh towels every day and expect, as standard, far more free products in their rooms like toiletries and tea/coffee.
As customers have become more demanding and we all live in more luxury at home it’s harder for B&B’s to offer a special experience and stay within a competitive price point. Many B&B’s have renovated into boutique bijou hotels, and Compton House is boutique, but at the same time we’re aware you have to take into account the amount you can re-coup from a newly redecorated room vs cost to keep changing.
Describe your favourite part of running a B&B
Meeting people from all walks of life and all countries. I’ve had the opportunity to meet various people with differing cultures and try to learn from these experiences by being genuinely interested and asking them questions. Compton House attracts many repeat customers who, over the years, have become friends and stay in touch by email when not visiting.
What things that you do, say or offer make you different to your competitors?
We pride ourselves on cleanliness and service. If you can get those two things right the rest falls into place. We offer an evening meal service if pre-booked, laundry service for long stay guests, and are happy to recommend places to eat or sights to see.
What would you say is the biggest chore?
Making the beds is hard work as to make them look neat and tidy takes time. We believe every room should look as if you are the first guest to ever sleep in it. Along with waiting in for guests who are late without advising or have flights delayed and people checking in at 3am.
What has been the biggest challenge of running a B&B?
Keeping on top of the maintenance whilst cleaning and cooking. Keeping a happy face for guests even when life is difficult on a personal level. Guest’s don’t want to know about your bad day, but often want to tell you about theirs!
Do you have any funny stories to share?
Here’s a few…
Lady asked if shower tray is porcelain or plastic, because she wanted to know if she could wear high heels in the shower!
A Couple were very loud in the throws of passion and I had to knock on door to ask them to quieten down as they were next to a family.
A couple stayed and the man left his shoes. I posted them back to him as a kind thing to do. The lady phoned me to ask why she had sent the shoes back in the post. I explained that I had found them in the room after they stayed so thought it kind to return them. The lady said that she had never been to Compton House so who was the lady that her husband had been with? We now keep lost property for 6 months & only return on request!
Thank you to Lisa Holloway for allowing Nikki to visit, and for using Out of Eden for her B&B supplies. Visit our online hospitality shop to view our exclusive ranges of toiletries, bed linen, housekeeping essentials and guest amenities.